Do Australians care about car emissions?

Record sales of fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles in 2015 show we do care about car emissions. In fact, it’s the biggest jump in sales the National Transport Commission (NTC) has ever reported since 2004.

What do we mean by low-emissions? A car must emit less than 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, to be classified as low-emission. During 2015, some 4.7% of new cars sold met this condition. This compares to 2.8% in 2014 and only 0.8% in 2011.




cars sold in Australia

Percentage of

all cars

 2015  52,613  4.7%
 2014  29,905  2.8%
 2013  24,034  2.2%
 2012  13,432  1.2%
 2011  7,361  0.8%

Top three low-emission sellers in 2015 were Toyota Prius, followed by Audi A3 and then Mazda 2.

Yet after the Volkswagen diesel debacle, can we trust the environmental credentials of any brand of vehicle?

Emissions testing

It’s no wonder the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) wants to test cars here on Australian roads and in our own climate.

Yet, the accuracy of testing done in manufacturer labs is debatable. Whether it’s fuel consumption or emission levels, Europeans have observed gaping differences between quoted figures and what really happens.

The Australian emissions test will have three equal parts, according to European protocols. It will be one third urban streets, one part outer-suburban and one third on highways. Costing half a million dollars, the process will examine 30 of Australia’s best selling cars.

The test will examine NOx, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions. It will also compare fuel consumption to quoted figures. AAA will examine a sample of VW diesels, before and after the company took remedial action.

As AAA CEO Michael Bradley comments: “Australians deserve to know the vehicles they drive have been independently tested in real driving conditions on Australian roads.”

Paul Retter, CEO of the NTC, claims Australian consumers still prefer cars with average 43% higher carbon emissions than European drivers. This is because Aussies usually like heavier vehicles with more powerful engines. And we’re lucky enough to enjoy lower fuel prices too.


There are still very few incentives for drivers in Australia to buy low-emission, low fuel consumption cars:

  • Luxury cars classified as “green” get a tax break if their purchase price is below $75,526 ($64,132 for regular ones)
  • Lower stamp duty for electric cars in ACT
  • Discounted registration for low-emission vehicles in Victoria.

So far, there are no incentives for motorists needing a green slip for their low-emission vehicles. Perhaps insurers are more concerned about the safety of drivers, passengers or pedestrians on the roads.

Read more about the Volkswagen scandal and how Australians are choosing greener cars.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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